WOMAN AND THE DRAGON, Part 2
another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven
heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of
the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the
woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.
She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her
Child was caught up to God and His throne. Revelation 12:3–5
the dragon appears in the heaven of the Revelation our attention is first called
to some parts of its appearance. The dragon has seven heads and ten horns just
like the fearsome beast of Daniels’ prophecy in the 7th chapter of the Book of
Daniel. The seven heads of Daniel’s beast are a picture of the seven hills on
which the city of Rome is built and the 10 horns are said to represent 10 forms
of government that existed during the rise and duration of the Roman Empire.
Those are true representations of Daniel’s beast, which was a political beast
but the dragon of the Revelation is in the heaven of the vision and pictures a
religious system without Christ. Uriah Smith, the Adventist writer, comments on
dragon stood before the woman to devour her child. Rome in the person of Herod
attempted to destroy Jesus Christ, when he sent forth and destroyed all the
children of Bethlehem from two years old and under. The child which was born to
the expectant desires of a waiting and watching church, was our adorable
Redeemer, who is soon to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Herod could not
destroy him. The combined powers of hell could not overcome him.
Smith sees the woman’s child only in the person of Jesus and not in the great
host of people that were being saved through the ministry of the church.
Nevertheless, he does capture the thought of the first persecution of the church
in Herod’s attempt to kill the baby Jesus. From the persecution of the baby
Jesus, Uriah jumps to the papacy of the Roman Church, which is too great a jump
in history for this part of the vision. F. G. Smith, the Church of God author,
are assured that the dragon, as a beast, was the Roman Empire then reigning. But
since in the descriptive symbols the dragon had with him “angels,” which
espoused his cause and fought for him, the system was more than a political
power, being also very definitely religious. The combination of symbols being
from the two major departments—animal life and angelic life—indicates the
dual nature of the dragon as signifying the Roman Empire under its pagan, or
authors see the dragon as a religious-persecuting creature they identify with
the Roman Empire.
the Roman Empire did persecute the early church the nature of this dragon
exceeds the Roman Empire and encompasses all religions that do not accept Jesus
Christ. The seven heads indicate the persecuting nature of the dragon through
the seven eras of the history of the church. It is clear from the lessons of the
letters to the seven churches, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the
seven systems of religion of chapters 12–14 that a persecuting power of
Christ-less religion always works against the church Jesus built. Some of these
systems call themselves Christian, but Jesus is far removed from their purpose.
ten horns do not correspond to the number of heads on this dragon. The seven
heads show the persecuting nature of this dragon throughout the Church era, but
these 10 horns are specifically related to the era of the early church. First,
there is no indication as to whether the horns are attached to any specific
heads. We can assume that the appearance of this beast at the same time as the
church suggests that the horns relate to the immediate history of the early
church. Therefore, these horns depict the 10 persecutions experience by the
early church following the Day of Pentecost to the Edict of Milan in AD 313.
first persecution of the church is pictured in the Book of Acts and was carried
out by the Jewish leaders. The Book of Acts tells us that Saul of Tarsus was a
major actor during that persecution until he was converted on the road to
Damascus and became the Apostle Paul.
the next 250 years persecutions were carried out against the church across the
Roman Empire. A fact that we seldom hear about these persecutions is that before
AD 250 persecution was not actually sponsored or instigated by the Roman Empire.
Persecutions were sporadic, localized and often mob-led.
of the church was not a political action, it was religious. The position of the
Roman Empire was that religion could be tolerated only if it contributed to the
stability of the state. Religion practiced in the Empire did not demand loyalty
to just one god; it demanded loyalty to the state. The state was the highest
good in the union of state and religion. The monotheism of Christians prevented
them from participating in events that involved “other gods.” Christians
were disliked because of their refusal to worship the gods or take part in
sacrifices expected of Roman citizens. Pagans believed that bad things such as
earthquakes and floods would happen if the established pagan gods were not
respected and worshipped. Christians were look upon as superstitious and occult.
They were accused of cannibalism because of their practice of eating the blood
and body of Christ. (The Lord’s Supper) They were accused of incest because
they referred to each other as brother and sister.
persecution of the church happened across the Roman Empire, it was sporadic and
isolated until AD 250 when an edict against Christians was signed by Decius. Up
to this time the persecutions were largely by local authorities putting pressure
on Christians to make a public sacrifice to some pagan deity. Many Christians
apostatized to avoid torture or execution. Generally speaking, Roman governors
were more interested in making apostates rather than martyrs. When unrest
against Christians arose within a governor’s jurisdiction he was more inclined
to appease the complainers in some way than to turn the region into riots and
the Jewish persecution of the church there were 9 persecutions of the church
within the Roman Empire. Together those make up the 10 horns on the fiery red
first persecution after the Jewish persecution was by the Emperor Nero in AD 64,
who blamed the Christians in Rome for the Great Fire of Rome. Nero actually set
the fire and ordered the hated Christians to be punished for it.
was persecution under Domitian, AD 89–96. The facts of this persecution are
sketchy but there are some accounts of martyrdom and persecution of Christians.
was Emperor from AD 98–117. Persecution during his reign was essentially a
case by case persecution. Authorities were told not to seek out Christians but
Christians that were reported and found guilty of being Christians were punished
unless they proved they were not Christians by worshipping the Roman gods.
reigned from AD 117–138 and was more lenient with Christians than Trajan. His
rule was that just being a Christian was not grounds for punishment unless they
had committed some illegal act.
next season of persecution of the church ran from AD 161–238. Marcus Aurelius
was Emperor from 161–180 and the number and severity of the persecutions in
various places increased. From 193–211 several persecutions were conducted
under Septimius Severus. These were mostly local persecutions rather than across
the Empire. From 235–238 under Maximinius persecution was conducted against
the heads of the church.
eighth of the ten eras of persecution was under Decius in AD 250. This
persecution was different in that the Roman government was officially involved.
Decius issued an edict requiting everyone in the Empire to make a sacrifice to
the gods in the presence of a Roman magistrate and obtain a signed and witnessed
certificate attesting to the sacrifice. This was the first time Christians
throughout the Empire were forced by imperial edict to choose between Jesus and
their lives. This persecution lasted 18 months.
AD 257 Emperor Valerian ordered all Christian clergy to perform sacrifices to
the Roman gods. The next year he ordered bishops and high-ranking church
officials to be put to death. By this time the Roman state had come to view
Christianity as a criminal organization and not a religion.
tenth and final season of persecution of the early church was under Emperors
Diocletian and Galerius from AD 303–313. A general persecution of the church
was called for on February 24, 303. The persecution under Diocletian was the
most pervasive in Roman history.
became co-emperor in 306 and restored Christians to full legal equality.
Galerius ended the persecution in the East in 311 only to resume persecution in
Egypt, Palestine and Asia Minor. Through Constantine’s influence the Edict of
Milan was signed in 313, which brought all persecution of the church to an end.
By AD 324 Constantine was full ruler of the Roman Empire and adopted
Christianity as his favored religion.
fiery red dragon has seven diadems or crowns on his heads. Since the crowns are
on the heads and the heads represent the persecuting nature of the dragon that
exists through all seven of the eras of church history, those crowns in some way
represent an influence that continues through each era.
commentators see the seven crowns representing the seven forms of Roman
government. Adam Clarke acknowledges the fact of the seven forms of government
but sees the crowns as the power behind those governments: “In the seven Roman
forms of government already enumerated, heathenism has been the crowning or
dominant religion.” The heads are the persecuting power of the dragon
throughout church history but the crowns are Christ-less religion that motivates
can we tie the crown symbol to this Christ-less motivation? Crowns appear 6
times up to this point in the Revelation. The rider of the white horse in the
first seal has a crown. (6:2) The 24 elders in chapter 4 have crowns. The church
at Smyrna is given a crown after enduring persecution. The faithful in the
church at Philadelphia is told to let no one take their crown. None of these
seem to fit the use of the symbol in chapter 12; however . . . the locusts under
the 5th trumpet have crowns on their heads. (9:7). The locusts of the 5th
trumpet opposed the church in that era with the mission to hurt people. They had
a king called Abaddon and Apollyon; meaning the destroyer.
submit that the crowns on each of the seven heads represent the demonic
authority of the Destroyer that motivates the dragon spirit of persecution in
each of the church eras. It can be any of the religious influences that deny
Christ and His authority in the church. Judaism at the time of Christ and the
early days of the church. The pagan religious influence that motivated the Roman
Empire. Papalism that arose through the apostasy of the church in the Dark Ages.
The Ala of Islam. The divided-Jesus church during the Reformation. Superstition
and philosophic religions that fought the mission work of the church in modern
times. And godless materialism and humanism that fights the church today.
red dragon has a tail that is the after-effect of outright persecution. Under
the 6th Trumpet an army of horsemen was released to work plagues on a third of
mankind. They had power in their mouths and according to Revelation 9:19,
“their tails were like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.”
Isaiah 9:15 contrasts heads and tails, “The elder and honorable, he is the
head; The prophet who teaches lies, he is the tail. For the leaders of this
people cause them to err, and those who are led by them are destroyed.”
the history of the church, the church always seemed to prosper and grow in times
of conflict with the world but when the conflict was over the church became lazy
and began to fall away from its divine mission. When Emperor Constantine
legalized the church in the Roman Empire, the church became worldly and lost
sight of its mission of salvation. Toward the end of the Reformation, the
passion for the gospel was replaced with differentiation and building of
denominations. Towards the end of the influence of the Primitive Church
movement, the teaching of holiness and the uniqueness of the body of Christ was
replaced with conformity to the established concept of denominationalism. In our
time we see churches given over to materialism and humanism vaguely covering
them with a supposed gospel shroud.
Child Caught Up to Heaven
in verse 5 of Revelation chapter 12 we see the child born and caught up to God
and His throne. This pictures the vast number of converts during the first
centuries of the Christian church.
church was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. The rod of iron is the church
preaching the truth of the gospel as seen in Psalm 2:8–9, “Ask of Me, and I
will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for
Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to
pieces like a potter's vessel.” Barnes comprehends the meaning of this symbol:
reference is to such control as a shepherd employs in relation to his
flock—protecting, guarding, and defending them, with the idea that the flock
is under his care; and, on the supposition that this refers to the church, it
means that it would yet have the ascendency or the dominion over the earth. The
meaning in the phrase, "with a rod of iron," is, that the dominion
would be strong or irresistible—as an iron sceptre is one that cannot be
broken or resisted. The thoughts here expressed, therefore, are (*) that the
church would become universal—or that the principles of truth and
righteousness would prevail everywhere on the earth; (*) that the ascendency of
religion over the understandings and consciences of men would be irresistible-as
firm as a government administered under a sceptre of iron; yet (*) that it would
be rather of a character of protection than of force or violence, like the sway
which a shepherd wields over his flock. I understand the "man child"
here, therefore, to refer to the church in its increase under the Messiah, and
the idea to be, that church was, at the time referred to, about to be enlarged,
and that, though its increase was opposed, yet it was destined ultimately to
assert a mild sway over all the world. The time here referred to would seem to
be some period in the early history of the church when religion was likely to be
rapidly propagated, and when it was opposed and retarded by violent
persecution—perhaps the last of the persecutions under the Pagan Roman empire.
child being caught up to God and His throne is an allusion to the great throne
of Revelation chapter 5 where the church is pictured as 4 living creatures and
24 elders worshipping God. Under the preaching of the gospel throughout the
known world of the first centuries of the history of the church countless people
were saved from sin and brought into a right relation with God regardless of how
hard the fiery red dragon spirit persecuted the church.
Smith, Uriah, Thoughts, Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation,
Steam Press: Battle Creek, MICH,
1875, pg. 215.
Smith, F. G., The Revelation Explained, The
Warner Press: Anderson, IN, 1942,